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Civil War Diary

The Civil War Diary of Jacob Marshall

by Richard H. Hall

Paperback; 46 pages, illustrated. (Brentwood Press, Brentwood, Maryland, 2005.)
$12.00 mailed via Media Mail in the United States.
$14.00 mailed First Class in the United States. (*)

This novelette recreates the military service of the 5th Michigan Volunteer Infantry Regiment in the American Civil War from the viewpoint of the regimental clerk. Except for the fictional narrator’s activities, every detail of the story is factual. The battles described, the weather conditions, the incidents in camp, the details of army life, combat scenes, all are based on historical records. The book, therefore, while technically historical fiction is 90-95% historical fact.

The Story

Soldiers executed for desertion.
The explosive violence of combat.
Boiling coffee and laughing at the foibles of the officers.
The constant rain and muddy roads.
The frozen hard ground as a bed beneath a cold, starry sky.
Snug log cabins with fireplaces in winter camp.

Jacob Marshall and his comrades in Company K of the 5th Michigan experienced it all. Army life was difficult, but a strong bond arose among the soldiers as together they faced the trials and tribulations of warfare and the vagaries of weather, not to mention the aggravations of military bureaucracy and incompetent leadership.

When the Civil War broke out, Jacob Marshall enlisted in the Saginaw Light Infantry militia unit in Saginaw, Michigan, which became Company K of the 5th Michigan Infantry. The regiment was sent to Washington, D.C., to join the Army of the Potomac, with which it participated in most of the big battles in the Eastern Theater (including the Seven Days battles before Richmond, 2nd Bull Run, Fredericksburg, Gettysburg, Chancellorsville, and the Wilderness). Jacob made frequent notes about army life in his small pocket diary whenever he had a chance.

Jacob and his comrades experienced all the hardships of camp life: rain, mud, bitter cold winter weather; violent storms; inadequate food and supplies; and the quirks and random events of army life. As regimental clerk, Jacob often worked closely with the officers, but he and the others sometimes had strained relations with the “shoulder-straps,” army slang for officers, and occasional bitter conflicts with them. And Jacob had a secret that he carefully kept from the officers and other soldiers for fear of being discharged. The army was his home; he had no living relatives in Michigan, though he knew many of the soldiers from Saginaw.
As the war progressed heavy casualties thinned the ranks of the regiment; Jacob’s duty included writing death notices for the colonel’s signature, and attending funerals in the field or arranging for the shipment of bodies to their homes. His diary records the good times and the bad, humorous incidents and tragic accidents, and ironic twists of fate. Then came the shattering wound received in the confusion of the Battle of the Wilderness, and Jacob was forcibly introduced to hospital life.

While recuperating from his wounds, he used his small pocket diary as the basis for a more permanent record, adding details to the sometimes brief and hastily written notes jotted down by candlelight in spare moments while in the field. But his wounds were healing, and soon he would have to return to his regiment which still was active in Virginia. How many of his comrades would still be alive? What further battles would they face? What would their ultimate fate be?

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Jacob’s adventures provide a snapshot of life in the Army of the Potomac in 1862 through 1864, and an accurate history of the Civil War for those years. The comings and goings of generals and the victories and defeats as observed by the so-called “common soldier” (like Jacob, they were often uncommon) are reflected in the diary.


(*) Overseas rates based on 5-ounce weight.

Order Civil War Diary by mail, with checks or money orders payable to:

Richard H. Hall
4418 39th Street
Brentwood, MD 20722-1021

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